Exclusive interview with Milo Aukerman of The Descendents

From left to right, Milo Aukerman, Stephen Egerton, Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarex posing shortly after their first studio album "Milo Goes to College" in 1982. (Photo courtesy of Chapman Baehler)

The Descendents helped shape the west coast punk scene in the 1980s. They’re hailed as pioneers in molding what is now considered pop-punk, skate punk and melodic hardcore by critics including Steven Blush, author of “American Hardcore: A Tribal History” and AllMusic’s Ned Raggett, who described the band’s music as “punk rock that wears both its adolescence and brains on its sleeve.”

Their legacy has surpassed simply helping to put Southern California’s punk scene on the map. The band’s blistering quick, melodic guitar work and straightforward, in-your-face lyricism continues to act as a blueprint for artists like NOFX and Green Day. In an interview with Spin, Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 said the Descendents had the biggest influence on his songwriting.

The Current got ahold of vocalist Milo Aukerman for an email interview during the band’s stint on this year’s Riot Fest after hearing that the band was writing their first album in eight years.

The Current: It’s been eight years since your last release. What made you guys decide to start writing again?

Aukerman: It was a combination of factors. One, Bill (Stevenson, drummer) had just recovered from having a brain tumor the size of a grapefruit removed. He had almost died, but more importantly felt like a million bucks after the surgery, and everybody was feeling a sense of euphoria over that. Our thought process was, let’s keep celebrating the happy event together by playing some shows.

Secondly, our kids are now of the age that they became curious about the band, asking “When can we see you play, Daddy?” I can say for me, that request had a lot of impact. Playing with the band is so fun, and having my kids see that means the world to me. So yes, we will be recording at some point.

Is there an approximate release date you’re shooting for?

We don’t have a timetable for recording. It’ll get done maybe over the next year or two. We all have other jobs so we’re trying to fit in the recording during our spare time. It may take a while, but the idea is to slowly put together the finished songs, trading files back and forth.

Do you have any plans to tour California soon?

We’re looking into coming out there next spring; stay tuned.

Have you noticed any changes in your demographic over the years?

We’ve always had a lot of younger kids at our shows, but the cool thing now is to also see the older folks there. Sometimes they’re the parents of the kids, so we get the whole generational thing, which is extra cool!

You hold a doctorate in biochemistry, so you’ve obviously been through your fair share of schooling. What advice would you give college students that you wish someone gave you?

Your degree does not guarantee you anything; at best it gives you license to further prove yourself through hard work. I got a Ph.D, but it took an additional eight years doing postdoctoral research before I landed a permanent position. It was a long road, but I’m glad I stuck it out. Students have to be willing to sacrifice to get where they want; nobody’s going to just hand you a job because of a piece of paper. That’s just reality.

Milo Goes to College
Released 1982
New Alliance Records

The band’s debut album introduced their own brand of aggressive, hardcore melodic punk with Milo Aukerman on lead vocals. The caricature on the cover, illustrated by Jeff Atkinson, depicts Milo as the class nerd. It was accepted well by critics, making Spin’s “50 Most Essential Punk Records” list. Shortly after the album was released, Milo did in fact head off to college.

Top 3 Songs:

“Catalina”
“Hope”
“Bikeage”

I Don’t Want to Grow Up
Released 1985
New Alliance Records

Their sophomore album marked the end of a brief hiatus when Milo came back from college and drummer Bill Stevenson returned from his time touring with Black Flag, another Southern California punk band. The album had more of a pop feel to it and more melodic than their debut, but the band’s heavy elements are still very present.

Top 3 Songs:

“GCF”
“Silly Girl”
“Good Good Things”

All
Released 1987
SST Records

“All” was a concept conjured up by Stevenson and his friend Pat McCuistion seven years prior to the album’s release. The idea was that you shouldn’t “settle for some, [but] to always go for All,” Stevenson said. It was “never being satisfied and just wallowing in your own sameness.” This was the band’s most lyrically mature album to date.

Top 3 Songs:

“Coolidge”
“Pep Talk”
“Clean Sheets”

Everything Sucks
Released 1996
Epitaph Records

The Descendents went on hiatus after the release of “All” so that Milo could pursue his career in biochemistry and the band could tour under the band name All. However, the band couldn’t quite shake the feeling of wanting to record again, and what they created was their first album to hit the Billboard 200 charts.

Top 3 Songs:

“I’m the One”
“Rotting Out”
“Thank You”

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2 Comments on "Exclusive interview with Milo Aukerman of The Descendents"

  1. I was happy to pickup the ARC paper to see an article on my favorite band, The Descendents. My buddies and I in the late 80s would drive 4 hours to LA to see them play at the Anti-Club in LA. Scott Reynold’s was the front man, but at one of the shows, Milo was out in the audience enjoying the music. It was a joy to finally meet him. I’m glad they’re still making music.

    • I know what you mean. I was beyond excited to hear that they were writing again, but I was a little in awe when Milo said why. Brain tumors are no joke. Hopefully they’ll play a new song or two when they come back to play.

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